Leadership Matters

Perspectives on the key issues impacting senior leaders and their organizations
October 13, 2021

3 Ways Companies Can Increase Hispanic and Latin American Inclusion

By Unidad, the Hispanic and Latin American ERG at Spencer Stuart

Spencer Stuart research points to the gap between the Hispanic and Latin American workforce and its representation in corporate leadership. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 18.5 percent of the U.S. population is Hispanic and Latin American — but only 5 percent of all independent S&P 500 board directors are Hispanic and Latin American, as reported in Spencer Stuart’s 2021 S&P 500 Board Diversity Snapshot. Other research has found that Hispanic and Latin American professionals make up only 4 percent of executive positions in the Fortune 1000.

This is a discrepancy that we are well acquainted with, both as Hispanic and Latin American members of the workforce, and in our work advising companies on their top leadership issues. From the unconscious biases they often face in the office to the comparative lack of growth opportunities for strong candidates, there remains plenty of work to better embrace Hispanic and Latin American employees and leaders.

Below, we look at some of the steps organizations can take to help their Hispanic and Latin American talent thrive in a more inclusive workplace.

Mentorship: Closing the opportunity gap

Because the desire to hire someone with similar backgrounds and perspectives is so powerful, the pipeline of Hispanic and Latin American leaders is unlikely to expand much without a formal process for spotting Hispanics and Latin Americans early and articulating specific development plans for them. Truly increasing opportunities for this group requires the active participation of non-underrepresented leaders, including setting expectations that they will identify high-potential Hispanics and Latin Americans and commit to their development, and rewarding those who do.

Sponsors and mentors play a critical role in career advancement. To build the leadership pipeline of Hispanic and Latin American leaders, sponsors can ensure that they are placed in roles that give them board-based exposure to the business as well as opportunities to take on P&L responsibility.

Efforts to target Hispanic and Latin American talent can start early — at the graduate or post-graduate level — by collaborating with organizations devoted to embedding diversity in business. The nonprofit Excelencia in Education reported in 2019 that 44 percent of Hispanic and Latin American college students are the first in their families to attend college, double the rate of white students. It’s a scenario that not only leads to some inherent disadvantages for Hispanic and Latin American students, but also has an impact post-graduation as they begin their career journeys.

Many of us have experienced that feeling of wanting someone to support us and provide guidance, but not knowing where to start or what questions to ask. Ensuring those more senior-level mentors are in place can help employees feel like they are in a position to thrive.

Expanding the profile for board and leadership positions

It’s not unusual for leaders to gravitate toward common background considerations when filling senior positions and board directorships. This can, of course, reinforce some of the pre-standing biases that hinder many minority groups from gaining more representation in leadership. But by casting a wider net during recruiting efforts, companies can engage a stronger, more diverse talent pool.

For example, companies often target active and retired CEOs and CFOs for board positions — positions with the least diversity in the C-suite, according to our research. But with many CEOs and CFOs already maxed out in terms of board positions they can hold, opportunities to find qualified and valuable board members could be found elsewhere in the C-suite and in other industries. At the same time, we have seen many companies that do not allow leaders other than the CEO to hold outside board positions, even though these can be critical development opportunities.

Confronting unconscious bias and creating an inclusive workplace

Countless surveys point to the value that diversity brings to companies. However, attracting people from diverse backgrounds is only part of the equation; organizations must create inclusive cultures that embrace all people.

This is an issue that hits home for Hispanic and Latin American employees. For example, a 2016 study by the Center for Talent Innovation found that more than three-quarters (76 percent) of Hispanic and Latin American employees do not feel that they can bring their whole selves to work — modifying their appearance, their body language and their communication style to fit into their companies’ culture.

Key to attracting and then retaining the top Hispanic and Latin American talent — and to maintaining diversity in general — is creating and maintaining an environment where they believe they can be themselves. Inclusive practices such as internal affinity groups, mentorship programs and companywide efforts to celebrate Hispanic and Latin American culture can offer important steps forward for making this important group thrive in the workplace.